Salvia: Easy to Grow Native

By Joe Schriner

California’s native plants have had millions of years adapting to life in what we now know as Sonoma county. All the plants in our region have evolved during many long hot summers. They have developed physical characteristics that aid in their tolerance of excessive heat with minimal water.

When I am planning for a new garden, I always consider “my well adapted native plant buddies” In fact, I have a “native” for practically every situation. For screening I might use Toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) or Pacific Wax Myrtle (Myrica californica). For covering a sunny slope I might use Carmel Creeper (Ceanothis griseus) or Emerald Carpet (Arctostaphylos ‘Emerald carpet’)

For a blast of color in the spring and summer…Salvia!

One would be hard pressed to find a plant willing to bloom longer and harder than a Salvia. With many species in the Genus, It’s easy to find one that will work for that sunny spot in your garden. I love them for their brightly colored blossoms and their aromatic foliage.

Salvia apiana better known as White Sage, is known for its fragrant white stems and leaves, which are a trait this plant has adapted to reflect (rather than absorb) the heat. This plant thrives in the coastal or semi coastal areas of Sonoma County, it can be tricky inland. Salvia apiana can grow to be 3’x5’.

Salvia mellifera AKA California Black Sage is large shrub with dark green foliage and white flowers. The aromatic leaves on this plant resemble culinary sage although they are a little more slender. Salvia mellifera can grow 3’x6’. For a mounding groundcover try Salvia mellifera “Tera Seca” it stays low at about 1’x6’. Black sage prefers coastal or semi-coastal areas of Sonoma County.

If your garden is inland, with little coastal influence, I recommend Salvia clevelandii AKA Blue Sage. It has ashy grey foliage and numerous whorls of upright amethyst blooms that rise up on 12” spikes.

SalviaIf you have a dry and some what shady area in your garden, you could try Salvia spathacea AKA Hummingbird sage. I first admired this plant growing under an oak, in a low-water garden in rural Sebastopol, and it was love at first sight!  Hummingbird sage has huge bright green arrowhead-shaped leaves and tall flowering stems that grow up to four feet high. The blooms are maroon in color and attract many flying insects, and of course….Hummingbirds! Like all sages, Hummingbird sage requires little water. In fact, this plant prefers an all out “rest” from watering in late summer.

If you try any of California’s native Salvia in your garden. You won’t be let down. I have found these plants are among the easiest to grow. They need little to no fertilizer, and very little water.

Once established, they only need a good soaking every couple of weeks. it’s important to group your Salvias with other plants that have similar watering requirements. You don’t want mix thirsty plants with ones that prefer little water, because in keeping the thirsty plants well watered, you will be over watering their drought tolerant neighbors.

When planning a section in your garden, always group plants with similar needs. Take in account how much sun or shade an area gets, and how much irrigation will be necessary. Salvias are tolerant of many soil conditions, but prefer at least some drainage. If you have heavy clay soil, and would like to try these plants, consider planting them in large ceramic or clay containers.

Here is a list of great companion plants for Salvias…

Epilobium sp., California Fuchsia               Mimulus sp, Monkey Flower

Encelia california, California Sunflower       Eriogonum sp, Buckwheat

Penstemon sp., Beardtongue                       Nassella sp, Needlegrass

If you are interested in growing California native plants, visit calscape.org or California Flora Nursery located at 2990 Somers St., Fulton, Ca. 95439. Telephone: 707-528-8813 website calfloranursery.com

Joe Schriner is a licensed landscape contractor/planner, horticulturist, and owner of Earthworks Landscaping in Cloverdale. He has enjoyed writing for the Sonoma County Gazette for the past 5 years.

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